Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Somehow, I got this far in life without ever seeing The Adventures of Robin Hood, the Errol Flynn movie. How did I do that? It's one of those films that is so often cited, shown on TV, at least clips, talked about, it feels like I'd seen it. And I'd seen enough clips and shots from it for it to be very familiar - but I hadn't seen it. Boy - what a treat. I have been on an old adventure film kick - this, Captain Blood, a bunch of Douglas Fairbanks films, got quite a few more Flynn/Fairbanks etc. films in the queue... They are all quite fine - but this really is a cut above. It looks great, that eye-popping color; it swoops along - it starts quick and nothing gets in the way of the action; it's funny, clever, it mostly makes sense; it's acted with panache all the way up and down the cast - Flynn is superb, as is De Havilland; Claude Rains is oily and dangerous as Prince John, and Basil Rathbone - oh: would make Alan Rickman proud!
Its the template for every action movie to follow - wisecracks and action, secondary plots (love! family! what have you) alongside the action... It's much more effective than some of the earlier takes on the genre. Captain Blood and Fairbank's Robin Hood, especially, take forever to get going: both of them are half set up - it's well over an hour in before Fairbanks even starts being Robin Hood, and even then, most of the Robin Hood stuff is offscreen. Captain Blood is almost as bad, taking forever to get Flynn out to sea. None of that here - this one dives in, wastes no time giving us Robin Hood - and giving him to us in all his glory, swinging down on a vine, crashing Prince John's party with a dead deer... And building to a series of magnificent set pieces: the big party scene; the ambush in the trees; the archery contest, with its famous arrow splitting business; Robin's escape; the big brawl at the end - and that magnificent duel between Flynn and Rathbone. That alone is worth the price of admission - that one shot in the middle: long crane shot starting with the men fighting, they go out of frame and we see their shadows on a huge pillar in the middle of the screen, they come fighting back into the shot on the other side - sweet Jesus, that's a beautiful shot.
I can't get enough of it. I had to buy it.